Viruses at the Gym: How to Work Out Without Worry
Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and usually develop on the heels or balls of the feet.
“Don’t walk [barefoot] on moist, wet environments where it lives. Take a shower and rinse off with clean water,” said Patel.
Herpes gladiatorum, also referred to as mat herpes, is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1.
“It comes from wrestlers back in the Roman days who would get herpes because they were wrestling in close contact with each other,” said Patel.
Athletes who play contact sports today can still contract mat herpes.
“Avoiding shared equipment and towels and using your own clean stuff is important in this situation,” said Patel.
Airborne respiratory viruses are another concern in gyms, noted Tetro.
“While people should not go to the gym when sick, it’s hard to stop them. If you happen to see someone who is coughing, sneezing, or showing any general signs of shedding, you may want to avoid that area until at least a minute after the person has left. You also want to wipe down the equipment to ensure you don’t pick up viruses from the surfaces and send them into your respiratory tract by touching your face,” Tetro said.
Patel suggested intervening with the ill person.
“If someone at a class is coughing and sneezing and not performing good cough etiquette, then you can ask them to take steps to cover their cough or give them a Kleenex or hand sanitizer. Or, go on the other side of room or use a different piece of equipment,” he said. “But this could be the case in any public setting… not just the gym.”
As for drinking from public water fountains or coffee pots and eating refreshments offered at the gym: “I’m not terribly worried about that. The food and drink are usually maintained to reasonable hygiene,” Patel said.
Though if you’re going to drink or eat refreshments provided by the gym, you should practice common sense. If cups and dishes look dirty or like they haven’t been rinsed in a while, use a disposable cup or bring your own reusable cup.
“I tell many people during the cold and flu season to get the flu shot and practicing good hand hygiene. Most of the time, you get the flu not because someone sneezed in your face, but because you touched something or are around people who are constantly coughing or sneezing, so when you pick up that phone receiver or touch the door knob and touch your face without good hand hygiene, [you contract the illness],” said Patel.
While germs can be contracted at the gym, the risks don’t outweigh the benefits of a good workout.
“The risk people undertake just going to the gym are probably sometimes exaggerated because of the one story we hear in the news, but that doesn’t mean it happens all the time. At the same time, people die every day from heart disease and going to the gym helps with that,” said Patel.
Practicing good hand hygiene, covering up cuts and skin breaks, wearing shoes, wiping down equipment before and after use, and bringing your own towels and mats can help keep germs away.